Movie: All is Lost

All is Lost
All is Lost

At the start of All is Lost a solo sailor far from land in the Indian Ocean gives a brief farewell message – maybe writing a letter – to unseen recipients that we assume must be his family. We then flash back eight days, to when he strikes a semi-submerged shipping container with his yacht. The rest of the film deals with his attempts to save his sailboat, and then ultimately simply to save himself. There are a couple of lines of dialogue, but no other people appear in the film and the sailor, played by Robert Redford, is alone for the duration of the movie.

Some people will find the spare nature of the production infuriating or boring – be warned. In other ocean films that we’ve watched, and even in the Deadliest Catch series, the ocean itself appears almost as an auxiliary character, full of sound and texture and power. In All is Lost, there are long periods during which Redford’s craft is becalmed, with a featureless ocean and distant, cloudless horizon almost fading into obscurity. During the storms the camera remains closely focused on him, not giving the waves and wind an opportunity to dominate the screen.

An interview with the director reveals how he relished the opportunity to cast Redford in a role in which he could not much use his voice – which is widely recognised and commands attention. His performance is gripping and disturbing. At no point could we guess how the unnamed yachtsman’s ordeal would end. The build up of tension was almost unbearable. I dreamed restlessly about sailing after watching the film.

There are interesting reviews at the New York Times and The Guardian. Tony, who has a bit of a sailing past, critiqued some of the decisions made by Redford’s solo sailor as being rookie errors (such as trying to put the storm sail up in the middle of a storm). Other sailors agreed with the points Tony made – Vanity Fair has an article here (but it’s likely to spoil the movie for you).

You can get the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

Movie: Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips
Captain Phillips

Several of my friends – among them people who are nowhere near as obsessed with container ships as I am – have recommended that Tony and I watch this film. It is based on a true story (ahem, ahem) of the heroics of Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama. His ship was boarded by pirates while travelling past the Somalian coast on the way to Kenya. There is an account of the hijacking here, but it will ruin the movie for you if you read it.

Tom Hanks’s reliable acting skills aside, this is a gripping film. The captain ends up in an enclosed lifeboat with the pirates, and half the US Navy turns up to try and resolve the situation. The khat-chewing pirates operate at a level of near-insanity that is terrifying and compelling. Having read The Outlaw Sea and several other pieces on the subject of the at times intractable problem of Somali piracy, the depiction of their desperation and the ease with which they board and overpower a 155 metre long ship ring true.

Although it’s set on a ship, which gave it special interest for us, this is a drama that will be enjoyed by anyone who likes that genre. Both of us would recommend it.

You can get the DVD here or here, and if you’re in South Africa you can get it here.

Movie: Men of Honor

Men of Honor
Men of Honor

Men of Honor is a contender for the movie with the most stellar cast that you’ve never heard of. Robert de Niro, Cuba Gooding, Jr, and Charlize Theron star in this ficitonalised account of the life of Carl Brashear, the first US Navy African American master diver.

Brashear grew up in poverty and enlisted in the navy 1948, an era during which race relations in the United States were not that dissimilar to race relations in South Africa. He showed dogged persistence in surmounting obstacles far greater than those placed before his white classmates, and successfully qualified as a navy diver in 1954.

Navy divers performed challenging underwater work, retrieving lost nuclear warheads (this happened more often than you’d like to know, during the dawn of the nuclear era), salvage work, repairs to ships, demolitions, clearing harbours, and maintenance (all underwater, of course). In many respects it is much like commercial diving, but with a combat element to it. The underwater scenes are reasonably convincing (except for one shot with a submarine) – suspiciously clear water being my chief complaint, but realism doesn’t always make for good viewing!

This is a highly simplified account of the life of a complex character, but Tony and I both enjoyed rooting for Brashear to overcome the odds and wipe the smirk off various antagonistic establishment characters’ faces. This always happened (no surprises there). Charlize Theron’s role is quite peripheral and, frankly, somewhat confusing. Robert de Niro is always wonderful.

You can get the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here. It wouldn’t be a total waste of an evening, specially if you had popcorn to hand…

Movie: Sphere

Sphere
Sphere

Sphere is a B grade horror/psychological thriller from the late nineties. I remember borrowing the Michael Crichton novel that it is based on from the library as a teenager, and being terrified by it. The book had a cool pale green green cover with a silver sphere on it, and a nice font – I recall these factors influencing my decision to read it at the time.

The mostly excellent main cast play scientists sent to investigate a large, spherical object that the US Navy has discovered lying on the ocean floor, encrusted with 300 years’ worth of coral (deep water coral, one assumes). Samuel L. Jackson plays a mathematician, which makes me happy. The scientists install themselves in an underwater habitat close to the sphere, and try to figure out what the spherical object is. The answer is surprising and, when the scientists think about it, not promising for their future health and happiness. The conclusion of the film is quite intellectually satisfying, if not spectacular.

This isn’t really a horror movie, although it does have a bit of gore and a lot of tension. The wisdom of middle age gave added perspective when Tony and I watched this a few months ago (I forgot to publish this post). At times I was forced to grab Tony’s arm with sweaty palms, but as many times I was able to chortle quietly as a mysterious underwater creatures (squid! jellyfish! sea snakes!) menaced various members of the crew of the underwater habitat. As in Sharknado, it wasn’t hard to see who was going to be eliminated next.

Shakespeare it isn’t. Grab your bowl of popcorn and leave your skepticism at the front door.

Get the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.

Movie: Sharknado

Sharknado
Sharknado

I really don’t know how to talk about this movie. It was the worst, most obviously low budget, poorly plotted, poorly acted, blatantly illogical, over the top piece of cinematic fluff I’ve ever encountered. I insist, however, that you watch it. It is absolutely fabulous in its badness. Broadcast during Shark Week 2013, this made for television horror (slash action slash romance?) film is unashamed in its cheesiness. You will enjoy guessing which characters are soon fated to die in a hail of sharks (they are usually multi-racial, or their names are not given – we don’t break any stereotypes here).

Apart from the delight I experienced at seeing one of the original Beverly Hills 90210 characters slaying airborne sharks with a chainsaw, which I don’t expect will be shared except by women who were at high school during a very specific few years in the early 1990s, there is much to love about this film. The computer animations of sharks and tornadoes are so bad they could have been done by a fifteen year old – or perhaps worse than that – and the continuity errors are frequent and obvious. The weather changes from bright sun to torrential rain within the course of a single conversation. At times the hero shouts about escaping the storm, but the sun is shining and the storm appears to have ended. The sea vaccillates between storm surge, nice surfing waves, and flat calm depending on whether there’s a human in the frame or not and how close the camera angle is.

I found the ending delightfully ambiguous. (Did the hero’s son fall for the cute barmaid, or are they just friends? Why am I so confused?) I must say I started to think that it was getting a bit unrealistic when Ian Ziering’s character sawed his way out of a shark’s belly using a chainsaw – wouldn’t the saw have stopped working in such a damp environment? That little quibble aside, I thought this was a great effort by all concerned.

There’s a sequel, too (and they’re using it to raise money for shark research via crowdfunding).

You can get the dvd here or here.

Movies: by subject

Looking for a movie (possibly loosely) related to the ocean for some holiday viewing? Here’s a small list:

James Bond

Thunderball
For Your Eyes Only

Treasure hunting

Into the Blue
Into the Blue 2 – The Reef
Fool’s Gold

Sharks

Dark Tide
Jaws

Surfing

Blue Crush

Documentary

There’s an exhaustive list here.

Also, don’t forget Sharknado!

Animated movies

Happy Feet
Happy Feet 2
Shark Tale
Finding Nemo

Free diving

The Big Blue

Cave diving

Sanctum

Science Fiction

Waterworld
Sphere

Historical

Master and Commander
Men of Honor

The rest

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Christmas gift guide 2013

Ok so this is a bit late, and if you haven’t done your Christmas, Hannukah and Festivus shopping yet, shame on you. Or just shame. Most of these ideas don’t entail going to a mall and having your personal space invaded by ten thousand hormonal adolescents. You can order online, or make a phone call or two. Get going!

Christmas at Sandy Cove
Christmas at Sandy Cove

Books

For the reader, you could check out our book reviews, arranged by topic:

I’m not going to suggest a magazine subscription – I’ve let most of ours lapse as we seem to have entered a long dark teatime of the soul when it comes to South African diving magazines. If the quality picks up, they’ll be back on the gift list at the end of 2014.

Dive gear

Check out What’s in My Dive Bag for some ideas… You can contact Andre for most of these:

Make sure you know the returns/exchanges policy of wherever you make your purchases. Some places can be difficult, and if the mask doesn’t fit it’s no good at all!

For lady divers

For the diving lady in your life (or your man friend with too much hair), what about some rich hair conditioner to apply before going in the water? Suggestions here. A pack of cheap, soft fabric elasticated hairbands is a good stocking filler.

Some high SPF, waterproof sunscreen, or a nice hooded towel for grown ups (available in one or two of the surf shops in Muizenberg) would also not go amiss.

Experiences

Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these! Contact Tony for prices.

For the non diver, you could inspire a love for our oceans with one of these:

For those who need (or like) to relax

Memberships

Wall art

Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or usually find them at Exclusive Books.

My underwater alphabet is available for R200 in A1 size, fully laminated. Shout if you want a copy.

If you take your own photos, you could print and frame a couple, or experiment with stretched canvas prints if that’s your thing. A digital photo frame pre-loaded with underwater images is also a lovely gift for a diving friend.

Donations

For the person who has everything, or because you’re feeling grateful:

Movie: For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only
For Your Eyes Only

A Top Gear special about James Bond’s cars put us in a frame of mind to enjoy some vintage Bond. Tony thinks Roger Moore was the best Bond; I am torn between Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, and Daniel Craig. For me, Roger Moore is at the bottom of the list (jostling for position with George Lazenby). Chronology, Tony’s fondness for Moore, and the fact that we only have about three James Bond DVDs swayed us towards a re-viewing of For Your Eyes Only.

For Your Eyes Only doesn’t only feature a convoluted plot, ridiculous foreign villains with hilarious accents, and a ridculous foreign Bond girl – also with an hilarious accent. It also contains extensive underwater footage that can teach us about the behaviour of sharks, what to wear when diving (yellow PVC overalls and gumboots), and how to manoeuvre a hard diving suit inside a shipwreck.

That said, the underwater scenes are surprisingly slick and well-shot for a movie made in 1981. They were filmed in the Bahamas. Carol Bouquet, the actress who plays Bond’s main squeeze, Melina, apparently had a sinus condition that prevented her from doing underwater stunt work, so the close-ups of Moore and Bouquet were filmed on a sound stage with fans blowing and special lighting. Bubbles were added afterwards. If I’d had this knowledge when I watched the film I’d have looked more closely at those sequences; without knowing they were filmed on dry land, I admit that they are very convincing.

In the screen capture below, I’ve grabbed a moment of the action as Bond and Melina take a submersible down to a shipwreck (the St Georges) lying over 100 metres under the sea, and exit at depth to penetrate the wreck and retrieve a very important computer. They run across the sand in their yellow gumboots. While inside the wreck they encounter a villain in a hard one-man diving suit, and a vigorous battle ensues. They blow him up, but are unaffected by the concussion despite being only a couple of metres away when his suit explodes. Upon returning, victorious, to their submersible, they are set upon by another villain in a one-man submersible with various pointy bits and cutting devices. There is an extended wrestling match between Bond’s submersible and the villain’s.

The divers race across the ocean floor from their submersible
The divers race across the ocean floor from their submersible

Curiously, although both Bond and Melina are breathing a mixture of helium and oxygen (because they’re diving so deep), their voices are unaffected by the helium, and sound completely normal. They also move through the water with remarkable ease, and – mysteriously – a large amount of light penetrates down to the shipwreck at 100 metres. No mention is made of the decompression obligation they’d have after their underwater high jinks.

If you want to combine a love of diving with a fondness (or love) for James Bond, you could do a lot worse than For Your Eyes Only. You can also check out Thunderball. You can get the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

Movie: Dark Tide

Dark Tide
Dark Tide

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this is the worst movie ever made. I don’t think a worse movie could be made; I’m willing to make this prediction even if the human race continues making movies in their current form until the end of civilisation. The fact that this is an appalling film shouldn’t put you off seeing it if you live in Cape Town, however. If you’re a Halle Berry fan, you will probably also be interested in this offering, and your enjoyment will probably be enhanced by viewing the film with the sound turned off. The movie was filmed a couple of years ago in Simon’s Town (False Bay Yacht Club, Bertha’s restaurant, and the jetty outside Bertha’s all feature) and False Bay. There is brief footage at (I think – it’s dark) Miller’s Point, Boulders Beach, and a fair amount shot at Seal Island. The underwater footage looked like it was shot in a kelp forest off Duiker Island in Hout Bay. Lots of seals. There was a lot of kelp – more than I remember there being at Seal Rock near Partridge Point. It could also have been shot at Seal Island (where it purports to be) in summer, but the water is quite clean which makes me unsure. There are about six characters, most of whom are played by local actors. We are treated to a variety of accents, sometimes several different ones from a single individual. There is a lot of supposedly endearing and humourous banter between Berry and her local staff members, which I just found patronising and offensive. Halle Berry’s character, Kate, freedives with white sharks. After causing the death of her safety diver (he was eaten), she retires from shark diving and takes people on boat tours to Boulders Beach to look at penguins and to Seal Island to look at seals. She can do this all in one short trip because Boulders is on the way to Seal Island when you sail out of Simon’s Town. Right? Right! (Another interesting fact I didn’t know about the geography of False Bay is that Seal Island is a 20 minute surface swim from Miller’s Point. The abalone poachers apparently do it often, but have a “less than 50% chance” of making it back.) It was fun to see Simon’s Town on film, and to identify that Kate’s office is actually the clubhouse for the kids’ dabchick sailing school at FBYC. A wealthy man of indeterminate nationality wants to swim with white sharks outside a cage. Kate is tricked (sort of) into taking him to do so. At seal island they see a couple of sharks, but the millionaire cannot follow instructions (“stay in the cage”) and Kate discovers that her boyfriend promised him a cageless dive without consulting her. After an INORDINATE amount of shouting and screaming on the boat, Kate loses her rag and decides to take the millionaire “around the point” to “Shark Alley” where the really big great white sharks can be found, to teach him a lesson. (Readers unfamiliar with Cape Town should know that there is a place here called Shark Alley, but it’s inside False Bay and no white sharks are found there… Only sevengill cowsharks.) Despite the worsening weather they make the trip, and at this point the movie becomes a cross between The Perfect Storm and Jaws. There is a lot more shouting on the boat. Lots of people get eaten by sharks. No doubt the NSRI is called. Not many of the characters make it home. To sum up, several people die in extremely violent and gory shark attacks. The blame for all of the deaths can be laid at Berry’s character Kate’s feet. She is immature, has a bad temper, and is incapable of assessing risk. Unfortunately she survives. Some of the shark footage is nice. An alternative title for the film could be “Shouting on a Boat” or “Halle Berry in Small and/or Tight Clothing”. If either of those appeal, by all means, be my guest. I hope the Department of Environmental Affairs, FBYC and STADCO made some nice money out of issuing permits and renting facilities for this film (really). It’s great that local venues are benefiting from the international film industry. SharkLife apparently sponsored a lot of the clothing worn in the film. Their logo was everywhere. I watched the credits with greater attentiveness than I did the rest of the movie, looking for familiar names among the stunt divers, skippers, cameramen and extras who featured. I found some! You can buy the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

Christmas gift guide 2012

In the interest of planning ahead, here’s our annual Christmas gift guide. This is specially for the people whose idea of a good gift is “whatever’s available in a shop close to the mall entrance on 23 December!”

Books

For the reader, you could check out our book reviews, arranged by topic:

There are also a couple of children’s books to consider.

Dive gear

Check out What’s in My Dive Bag for some ideas… You can contact Andre for most of these:

Make sure you know the returns/exchanges policy of wherever you make your purchases. Some places can be difficult, and if the mask doesn’t fit it’s no good at all!

For lady divers

For the diving lady in your life (or your man friend with too much hair), what about some rich hair conditioner to apply before going in the water – suggestions here, otherwise try what I’m currently using: Aussie Moist Three Minute Miracle, which is available at Clicks. A pack of cheap, soft fabric elasticated hairbands is a good stocking filler.

Some high SPF, waterproof sunscreen, or a nice hooded towel for grown ups (available in one or two of the surf shops in Muizenberg) would also not go amiss.

Experiences

Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these! Contact Tony for prices.

For those who need (or like) to relax

Magazine subscriptions

Memberships

Wall art

Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or find them at Exclusive Books.

My underwater alphabet is available for R200 in A1 size, fully laminated. Shout if you want a copy.

If you take your own photos, you could print and frame a couple, or experiment with stretched canvas prints if that’s your thing. A digital photo frame pre-loaded with underwater images is also a lovely gift for a diving friend.

Donations

For the person who has everything, or because you’re feeling grateful: